A couple miles off of Ocean City, a barge sucks sand from the coastal bottom to deposit on the beach. It's part of an Olympian tug of war: Man is trying to fortify a beachfront continually depleted by erosion and storms, and Mother Nature will return some day to claim the sand again.
Not just on the beach, but also in its business environment, Ocean City is dealing with shifting sands. The state's prime resort town has experienced flat growth the past few years. Community leaders are combing for reasons -- and solutions. Against the backdrop of a 10 percent drop in room tax revenues this June compared with last, and a disturbing preponderance of "vacancy" signs deep into the season, Gov. William Donald Schaefer recently convened a task force to study how to improve business at the beach.
Like breakers off the Atlantic, some of the factors buffeting Ocean City are beyond local control. Air fare wars have stolen away some vacationers. The recesssion, not to mention the cool Canadian jetstream, have cast lingering chills.